How Danone is sustainably disrupting the food industry – an interview with Blandine Stefani, B Corp Director, Danone

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How Danone is sustainably disrupting the food industry – an interview with Blandine Stefani, B Corp Director, Danone

The food industry is under scrutiny. Yet international food and beverage company Danone is committed to shifting the tide. They aspire to lead the way to a circular economy and improve both the planet and the health of the world population. We spoke to Blandine Stefani, the B Corp Director at Danone, during the B Corp Summit in Amsterdam, 23-24 September.

 

How has Danone become a major sustainable food brand and what were the biggest achievements and major challenges during that journey?

The Danone brand celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Since the very beginning, pioneering healthy innovation has been our key driver and fifty years ago, our Founder and CEO at the time, Antoine Riboud, stated that the company’s purpose could not stop at the factory door. Then he went on to define our legacy dual project. This project aims to combine economic success and social progress. Ever since that commitment, Danone has been leading pioneering initiatives such as Danone communities (a social business fund created in partnership with Nobel Prize Awardee, Muhammad Yunus), or working with vulnerable people in their ecosystems such as waste pickers or small farmers in order to create a decent living for them. Most recently, our Chairman and CEO Emmanuel Faber has launched two business-led coalitions to promote inclusive growth on one hand, and to restore natural and cultivated biodiversity on the other hand.

We are deeply convinced that the health of the population and the health of the planet are interconnected and that our role as a food and beverage leader is to foster healthier and more sustainable habits

We cannot stop there as the climate crisis and many other challenges require even more drastic actions. We are deeply convinced that the health of the population and the health of the planet are interconnected and that our role as a food and beverage leader is to foster healthier and more sustainable habits - as encapsulated in our ‘One Planet. One Health’ vision.

 

How is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) integrated at Danone?

I don’t really like the concept of CSR because it sounds as if it’s a topic on the side. At Danone, sustainability is part of the strategy and the way we do business. Every person in our organisation, no matter his or her position, can become an activist of change and embrace it. This is a state of mind that the B Corp process amplifies. In order to have systemic change, we need everyone on board. It makes us accountable as employees are more involved in the process and are pushing for change.

 

Being a large company with subsidiaries across the world, how did you manage to get all the different business units and employees on board with the certification?

At the beginning, we made strategic choice that this process would be on a voluntary basis. We looked for 10 subsidiaries to volunteer. The request was for General Managers who believed that the B Corp certification was going to bring value to their business and that it was right for them.

So we started with these “happy few” and it created the dynamic.

The first certification took us a lot of time and energy. At a corporate level, we created a small team dedicated to supporting the subsidiaries and we were all learning at the same time. It was a bit of a journey for everybody but through those first “10”, word of mouth played a great role in getting new volunteers to come along and participate. After a couple of years, we now have more than 30% of our global turnover covered by the B Corp certification. This is a great milestone.

Every person in our organisation, no matter his or her position, can become an activist of change and embrace it.

We reiterate this process every year. We ask for volunteers and then we receive a pool of candidates. We check that their entity allows them to be certified, that their senior management is supportive and that they can prioritise the initiative. Once a subsidiary is certified, another journey starts in order to build continuous improvement plans and create positive impact. And employees are fully engaged in that process.

Our ambition is to be 100% certified at a global level by 2030.

Danone is a listed company. Would you say it made your journey towards becoming a B Corp more challenging? How do you work with that external pressure?

There’s no B Corp journey if we don’t deliver on our growth requirements as a listed company. We are very much leading both agendas at the same time. Sometimes there is pressure and we have to put more focus on the short term and ease the pressure on our subsidiaries in terms of certification. Our endgame is to demonstrate that as a B Corp we can be even more resilient and successful as a business. Why? Because our stakeholders and ultimately our consumers will trust what we do and chose our products to contribute to the world they want to live in. Does that make it more difficult? Yes sometimes. When I look at a small privately owned company, it sometimes feels easier to make bold decisions. For all companies that are part of the B Corp movement, the journey takes courage and resilience, and Danone’s size makes the journey complex.

But I’ve no doubt that we can make it happen!

Our ambition is to be 100% certified at a global level by 2030.

In what way did the B Corp certification affect your milk suppliers?

Obviously, the milk cycle is an important part of our supply chain. We work with about 70,000 small and large farms. And about 25% of the B Corp assessment is focused on the impact of supply chains where farmers play a large role.

We have long-term contracts with our farmers and our commitment to B Corp encourages us to develop new initiatives such as developing organic or working with them on more regenerative practices. One supplier farmer is even looking at becoming a Certified B Corp themselves.

 

What’s the latest practice you’ve integrated to reduce your carbon footprint?

We heard a lot at the B Corp Summit about the challenge we face with packaging waste. We are committed to accelerating the transition toward a circular economy of packaging by designing all of our packaging to be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. Also, we are developing collection and recycling systems that keep existing packaging material in use. That’s the virtuous circle we’re trying to attain.

Our iconic brand Evian has committed to being 100% circular by 2025. In several markets, such as Indonesia and Spain, we have launched 100% recycled PET bottles. And our 8L Volvic jug that is composed of 100% recycled PET was recently launched in France, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium. These are great steps in the right direction.

Our endgame is to demonstrate that as a B Corp we can be even more resilient and successful as a business.

Is the French government helping to adopting sustainable measures?

In the last few months, there have been many discussions at government level around the “Loi PACTE”, which I think is going in the right direction. The new law recognises that business have a role to play that goes beyond the pursuit of profit for shareholders and that all companies should have a purpose, a “raison d’être” in French.

 

What do you do in your daily life to live up to this?

My children are my motto. They understand what I’m doing at work and they hold me accountable for the choices I make. They can ask where the kiwi I bought came from, or why I am not driving an electric car... They push me to be even more conscious. What drives me personally is being able to align what I’m trying to achieve with my family with what I’m doing at Danone, which I hope contributes, at a bigger scale, to create a sustainable future for them.

Wichtige Hinweise.

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